Wine, Perfume, and Possibilities

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Author photo by Andrew Amundsen

While Naming the Stars promotion (visits, signings, talks) is only beginning, can you see how relieved this author is  now that the book launch is over? It was well-attended and successful, thanks to the help of my publisher, my wonderful local bookstore, my local newspaper books editor, and my favorite nearby coffee cafe.

Yes, it takes a village to raise an author.

But you do start out in a little remote hut by yourself. That one idea that grew into a full-fledged novel that is now Naming the Stars is the culmination of many other pages and ideas not at all about this book. Random fits and starts litter my big hard drive folder labeled “Prose.” (There’s one for “Poetry” too.) Completed never published novels languish there. A lot of the work in my Prose folder will never see the light of day. But I frequently revisit documents not touched in years – at the moment one of my projects involves harvesting one chapter from an old novel and turning it into a short story.

irisThree to four unfinished novels have not been entirely abandoned. I keep thinking I will get back to them. I may not. Ever.

Two possible sequels to Naming the Stars are not found in the folder yet. I’m excited about an idea for the first sequel — an idea that formed while I was making the final preparations for the launch — preparations that involved a glass or two of white wine, and a spritz of Fragonard Iris perfume.

I’m at the idea stage, remembering what I wrote about while in San Francisco, striving hard to let my inner artist free. I’m rereading that post now, ready to set off on my next writing adventure. Undoubtedly this will require more wine and perfume, more dreaming and, as always, more writing.

 

Creative Hibernation

I guess you could call it that. For more than several months, possibly a year or more, I’ve been in a state of writer-lethargy, a low-energy subsistence of work-eat-television/internet/screen viewing-sleep.Rainbow

This is not the same as a writer’s block. Novel and stories noodled in my brain, but stayed there, slumbering through a very long, bone-chilling winter where I did nothing more than bundle my writer’s brain up and send it to bed. The ideas needed to stay warm and safe, and keeping them warm and safe meant they needed to be tucked away somewhere for a sunnier day.

Oh there has been plenty of publishing activity, and that is very very good, and I know it is good to be where I am on that front. (By the way, that front includes interest from Hollywood, fingers crossed.)

But you are not a writer unless you actually write, right? (Note to unpublished WRITERS – you are writers, one and all).

So now I have shouted my sleeping writer’s brain awake. WAKE UP, YOU LOSER! And I am writing again.

Further, I have banned the following excuses (i.e., conditions that I required for writing):

  • Writing must be done in certain places  (favorite happy places – like Nina’s Cafe – which now serves WINE). Well, I can pour myself my own glass of G-D wine, which I have at hand at the moment. Of course, Nina’s will continue to be visited.
  • Writing can only be done on weekend mornings when I am awake. HELLO, I can write during other parts of the day, other parts of the week. Don’t be a pathetic lazy bones.
  • Writing needs to be “inspired” – i.e., seat of the pants. Um – I could try an OUTLINE for once? Or, even easier, use an app, such as Scrivener – where I can write here and there, and easily reorganize as I need to. A little organization might allow one to have more than three or four characters in a book. Multiple plot lines. A little more depth. A lot more depth.

Note the pretty rainbow. I painted it myself, yes indeed, sometime in the last few years. It’s not perfect, in fact, it looks childish. I don’t care. Another rule from the list of banished excuses:

  • Stop worrying about perfection. About the word count. About pumping pages out in a minimum amount of time. How about just enjoying the process for once, imperfect as it can be? Have fun with it?

So I’m feeling more joyfully-rainbowish about the whole thing. And that is the point.

 

Winter’s Revelations

IMG_1359Winter reveals the

wonder of trees –

lacy limbs dividing,

then dividing again,

branches curving high,

arching and bending,

narrowing into many

sturdy brown hands and fine fingers –

held open as if to

bless the wide blue sky.

 

Winter reveals the

beauty of breath –

frosts the steamy workings of

our hidden inner tree –

bronchi dividing to bronchioles

branching off,

finer and finer,

until the microscopic alveoli

perform their miracle –

lungs transform air into the blood,

praising in every breath,

blessing us with life.

Gardens Under Glass

 

43971923_fabe4c4ee5_zThe photo was taken almost ten years ago when my oldest son was first in Helsinki, and I thought of it this morning as I practiced meditative breathing exercises.

The beautiful flower bloomed inside the Helsinki Winter Garden, which is a place much like Saint Paul’s Como Park Conservatory: both transparent glass skins held together by metal bones, both housing carefully gardened ecosystems of  tropical plants and koi ponds.

There is nothing more restorative than a visit to one in winter.

You step inside such a place and, if you wear glasses, they are immediately fogged up, you become overheated but don’t really care, and the vibrant perfume of growing things saturates you in a healing way.

So it was the perfect day to visit the St. Paul Conservatory–especially now that we are in the thick of winter, experiencing one of the coldest days of the year. I needed the restoration it offered. I could imagine that many similar visits are being made these winter days in Helsinki – which can be even colder, and even darker than winter is in St. Paul

The Conservatory was the perfect place to practice my breathing exercises, by which I mean meditation –

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in,

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

Nowhere are you more aware of the breath than when you are in such a place, so damp with the thick, wet breath of green things exhaling and inhaling.

As I walked through, occasionally pausing to sit and breathe–I thought how conservatories are much like our own bodies–fragile and resilient–in need of care in order to be remain balanced and vibrant. Beautiful.

I glimpsed a half-dozen gardeners working behind the scenes in staff-only greenhouses. Others stood watchfully in the bonsai room and elsewhere, making sure visitors kept a safe distance from the rarest plants.

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Now I am thinking of myself as both a winter garden and its gardener: I inhale and exhale calmly, protecting and maintaining the beauty within my fragile crystal skin and strong metal bones.

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in,

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

Goodbye Facebook

Botón_Me_gusta.svgThe causalities are piling up: Facebook exits by several friends, some just as the New Year began (resolutions?), others over the past several months.

One was driven away on his significant other’s insistence, another out of some unexplained need to take a break for the year. Yet another left, claiming she was being stalked and her departure was at the insistence of legal authorities for her own protection.

Another friend comes and goes all the time, claiming the need to purge from the negativity showing up in her stream.

I joined Facebook as a writing career move, prodded by an agent to establish my social platform. Naturally, many of my online friends are other writers, doing the same. Now I’m having doubts too, and I know that others have long had the same. What I have to say here is nothing new, but I’ll say it anyway.

I do what all my writer friends are doing – posting links to my blog, reading updates, publishing updates, – you know – marketing myself. This is the dark side of being creative. The very antithesis of it. But part of being artist is performing your work (i.e., getting published, presenting readings), and marketing yourself is an entree to both of those ends.

Yet the creative urge is fed by lots of time alone with the work. And not all the time you spend talking about your work.

The flipside is that I am on the receiving end of all of my writer friends’ marketing efforts, and along with my happiness for them when they succeed there always comes a stab in my belly that I’m not keeping up, that I should be doing more, that I’m not getting published enough, that I’m not winning enough awards, getting the important reviews, etc, etc, etc.

And that’s just the thing.

Affirmation (in the form of a Facebook like or number of views) creates the need for more – it’s a vicious cycle –there is not enough affirmation (Facebook liking) in the world, for anyone to ever feel validated. Loved.

You can’t get true affirmation from an impersonal system masquerading as a community that is really trying to pitch ads at you and make money for a Faceless corporation.

I wish I could be one of those people who just posts and moves on, invested with a power ego that doesn’t care if people like or hate what they say. To be honest, that was my goal when I naively joined up. That I could be the real person that I am, express my real opinions, and be better for it.

But I’m neither being real, honest, or feeling better for it.

Writer Sherry Turkle says, Facebook is the place “where you show your best self. It’s a place for good news, not the place where you talk about your most vulnerable self.”

And it’s true: Susan – the public persona as seen on Facebook is nowhere close to the real person that I am. The Facebook Susan is a curated façade, intended to help market me as a writer and, I admit, to share my other personal successes for your stamp of approval.

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Again, this is not a new thought, just a realization of how artificial this community can be.

 

As much as I love to see my friends and family’s adorable baby and pet photos, as much as I do cherish new friends I’ve made only because of striking up a Facebook friendship, as much as I love to keep in touch with friends, old and new, I’m finding it harder and harder to give a thumbs up to the Facebook experience these days.

And I know I’m not alone. So there’s community in that, right?

Blocked?

“It was too big for him, that was the truth. It had never really progressed, it had simply fallen apart into a series of fragments.”

~ George Orwell

I thought I’d write about not having nothing much to say. An odd topic for a blog, to be sure.

But there you have it.

This wordless inertia is not the same as writer’s block, as I have plenty of ideas, I always do. More than one work in progress. I feel distracted, but always am; the world itself an unending distraction of unresolved problems, rising tensions, and I’ve often found writing is a good cure for distraction. Writing grounds me, it can be a form of meditation, an escape, I’ll admit.

It’s easy to throw some words on a blank page, fiction-up when reality sucks.

But those times of distraction, when I can get into a world-building mania and think 1398854_10205607049285182_6357952780868727952_oI’m onto something new, invent new characters who deserve to live beyond that initial chapter, tend to….fizzle.

But that’s not what is happening now.

It’s also not the same as giving the work a rest. Where you work like crazy, stuff the work in progress in a drawer, then come back to it with fresh eyes. This “resting phase” is part of writing, essential so you can read your work from a reader’s perspective. But I don’t feel like the writer in me is resting.

It really may be nothing more than the sad, cold, gray fog of November settling down all around. The naked boredom of trees, their leaves shed like playing cards scattered on the table at the end of a game. The players moved on to pretty much nowhere.

My writer’s brain has entered a phase of literary hibernation. To avoid a complete shut down, I’m spending lots of time looking at visual art, allowing my eyes to linger on color and form — day-dreams — instead of constantly world-wording. At some point, the visual fragments I’m collecting may reassemble themselves into poems or prose.

There’s no way to tell whether that will be a day from now — or several months down the road.

UCDSAN (Unrealized Characters Demanding Story Adventure Now)!

Idled story characters at the beach in Finland

Idled story characters at the beach in Finland

Some time ago, a boss was comparing me with my coworker as the three of us met in the boss’s office. Specifically, this boss was reacting to a complaint my coworker made about a work problem that the boss had not taken care of.

At the time, I thought that maybe my coworker had the right idea. That it was better to be the squeaky wheel. That even my boss, who was quite the squeaky wheel herself, would find me lacking in the gumption department. In fact, this particular boss had an energy for squeakiness that I found admirable, though wearing. She was a tiny spitfire of a woman with glinting eyes who had an admirable grasp of office politics and hidden powers of influence.

She could also be quite scary when things weren’t going her way.

“You need to be more like Susan,” the boss said to my coworker. “She does her research, presents me with the issue, then waits, patiently.” She smiled at me and my coworker slumped back in her chair, scolded. I know she meant this as a compliment. She was saying that in due time the issue would be dispatched, but trying to get things done faster, on one’s particular schedule, punctuated with much nagging, simply doesn’t help one’s case. She even may have suggested that she herself would be better off with a bit more of my patience.

I don’t know.

One of my best friends from high school signed my yearbook “To the calmest person I know.” I learned what this meant years later, long after we’d lost touch and then met for lunch near our workplaces. By then, she was a scary thin chain smoker, a not much recovered drug addict. She was quivering as if her body was a dragonfly wing, barely settled, as if even the most innocuous comment would send her flitting away. A calm personality might have saved her from some of her troubles, and when she looked at me, perhaps she saw in me what she lacked.

I don’t know. Here’s how impatience lives in this writer, who appears to be all patient and calm on the exterior.

 There are all of the little stories huddled inside of me, bored children demanding their next adventure. “What are we doing next?” they whine, these unborn characters from tales I have yet to tell.

“Hush,” I say. “Be patient.”

“Why?” They chorus.

“Any number of reasons. Isn’t it obvious?” (The dog is impatiently barking for attention, the sink is full of dirty dishes, and I’m getting over a recurrent bug, and, by the way, I have a day job? etc.).

And so they settle down, my little unborn story children and other story people who have been paused, mid-story, sometimes for several years.

Their patience with me will be rewarded at some point down the line, I say, just like my boss said, years back. But that was more for her own benefit, right? And my friend who wished she was someone other than who she was? They were both reflecting on what they saw as their own failings, dreaming in my character a strength they wished they possessed.

I don’t know.

I may be far too patient for my own good, writing-wise. Too accommodating to the demands of the real world.

I’m secretly hoping that a squeaky wheel amongst those hibernating story characters might stand up for all of us and make a fuss that it isn’t right for them to be lying about, un-imagined. Un-realized.

Maybe they will organize and spill themselves out of there and onto the page, an unstoppable force that no amount of real life or so-called patience can deny.